If you’re like me, you are happy to cruise along in the tech world at a minimum of skill and know-how. My family didn’t have a telephone until I was in fourth grade and a television made its debut in our living room when I was in the seventh grade. I punched away at a manual typewriter up to graduate school, but a nerdy friend offered to type my dissertation on that new-fangled invention called a ‘laptop.’ Which was not really a laptop because it was too big and cumbersome to sit on one’s lap. It wasn’t even an easily portable device as I recall.
I can get pretty anxious when my current laptop springs a problem, or my iPad and cell phone take on directions I had never anticipated. Fortunately, I have tech-savvy friends who do an excellent job in keeping me afloat with my technology.
Still, I love technology. I love its curiously endless thread of available information, a well that never runs dry. I love that it never stops growing, expanding frontiers we should explore for the good of the human race, the environment, and all of our Earth’s animal co-habitants. I love the mystery that somewhere inside a machine is the answer for a friend’s diagnosis, or the unlocking of someone’s inability to read or even to walk or talk. When I was a child of ten or eleven, my classmates and I would draw robots to which we gave movements and voices. We tried to make them scary—a little like Frankenstein, our favorite scary character. I’m sure many of you did the same.
Today’s technology is ripening from the innate gifts of the human brain and creativity. We always had robots—imaginatively. Now they are real. But some people are afraid of the recent inventions of technology, and I can see why. Unfortunately, there exist several groups who call themselves religious and yet see emerging technology as evil or a tool for an evil force. But the young founder of Duolingo, an app for learning languages, kept a phrase taped to his desk as a student which read, “I promise to help the world.” His mother found the note and was thrilled. Luis von Ahn decided to use his extensive gifts by developing a major “deep learning app” to teach language in ways accessible to the poor in his native Guatemala. “I want the poor person in Guatemala to be able to learn with very high quality. The only way I know how to do that is with artificial intelligence.” Who can argue against that? Duolingo has more users than Google or CNN or Tik Tok.
It is true that the vocabulary of AI (artificial intelligence) can be a little off-putting. When you start investigating AI for your own knowledge, you will come across words and phrases that will blur your eyes and numb your brain. Words like ‘bot,’ ‘chatbot,’ ‘GPT-4,’ and ‘machine learning,’ and ‘deep learning,’ for starters. Within a few months or less, some of these terms will be on the ash heap of history as they are overtaken by new developments and creations. And one can wonder about the ethics of AI when it confuses a name with a face, or a solidly good word like ‘democracy’ with an ideology like ‘Nazism.’
But AI is here to stay, and it will keep changing by the day. Businesses are finding it helpful for the bottom line, and its incursion into medicine is simply mind-blowing. Dr. Joan Rovere, a pediatric cardiologist, says, “Artificial intelligence has so much potential to do good and we need to keep that in our lenses as we’re thinking about this. How do we use this to do good and better our world?” Her organization, The Virtue Foundation, studies the ethics of AI. Technical writer, Janelle Shane, says on her website, “No occupation will be untouched by machine learning, but no occupation is likely to be completely overtaken by it.” That’s hopeful. Employers are developing ways to retrain employees so as to secure meaningful employment.
I believe the key to adjusting to the evolution of AI amounts to a few spiritual points we might keep in mind. First, realize that no machine will replace the human being as an ‘image of God.’ Second, be careful how you relate to AI if you choose to. Be aware that nefarious minds are always at work to illegally skim profits so don’t put yourself in their line of attack. Make thoughtful decisions about what you use and how you use it. Do you really need Instagram and Facebook? (Although these are not, technically, AI.) Be extremely selective about what social media you own. Third, regard the exploration of new technology as God’s way of giving us immense abilities to reach Him. Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit-scientist, once said, “One must look and listen and check and question.” For Chardin, God was a “loving, cosmic Person—the God for evolution.” He would have reveled in modern technology not fearing it but treading gently following the threads of even such a new reality as AI to bring him to greater understanding of the Divine.
This is plenty of heavy stuff for you my faithful readers, but I hope you see it is meant to help you be more comfortable with this emerging technology and not give into the many organizations springing up using misinterpreted religious doctrines to sway us from the good God wills from AI. We need lots of learning and faith to live in a world of constantly developing technology. Spend this week reading in AI, if you wish, and praying for scientists who spend their careers making our lives better.
What is your experience with technology or AI and how have you learned to adjust?
Quotes from Teilhard de Chardin taken from Teilhard’s Mysticism by Kathleen Duffy, pp. 4-5.
Quotes on Luis von Ahn taken from “The Language Game,” The New Yorker, by Carina Chocano, p. 50, April 22, 2023.
Quotes from Dr. Joan Rovere and Janelle Shane taken from Google search on What is Artificial Intelligence.
Correction: Last week’s blog incorrectly stated the name of Sister Ignatia, CSA as
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